Beyond the End of Time Chapter 3
Author Ben Snyder
Excerpt from an interview with the Human Investigation Project leader, Krachka:
“Are humans intelligent? This is a very difficult question to answer--after all, how does one define intelligence? Philosophers have debated this since the very beginning of civilization. Humans certainly demonstrate outstanding perceptive and analytic abilities that exceed those of any other extant [non-arthrid] species by several orders of magnitude. Their pattern recognition is excellent and they demonstrate complex social behaviors as well. As for intelligence, the debate continues...”
Julius awoke to find the forest shimmering, illuminated by sun rays trickling through the thick canopy. He sat up to find the others still sleeping soundly at his feet. As quietly as he could, Julius crept out of the enclosure and made his way to the river. He drank long, splashing his face and startling a fat, white bird. A rustling sound in the bushes preceded Elizabeth’s appearance at the river side; she nodded and followed his example.
Elizabeth broke the silence, “So what now?”
“I don’t know,” he shook his head and gestured to there surroundings, “something just doesn’t seem right about all this.”
“Hmmm… that’s true, I guess,” Elizabeth said thoughtfully, “but what matters is that we’re here now and so that’s what we have to make do with.”
“That’s it! You say here as if there is somewhere else,” he refused to let the subject drop, but she shrugged more or less indifferently.
At that moment a loud crash from the forest distracted the pair from their musings and they ran back to their home base only to find Henry tangled up in a large leafy branch. Elizabeth rushed to help him up while Julius extricated his legs from the branch.
“Are you okay?” Elizabeth inquired.
“Fine,” Henry answered slightly sheepishly, “tried to get this walking stick off the tree.”
“Bit off more than you could chew?” Elizabeth burst into laughter.
The others joined in and, for the time being, Julius’s doubts were pushed into the back of his mind. After all the effort, Henry refused to let the branch go to waste, so Julius watched as he deftly shaped it into a walking stick. As he worked they ate more of the stored fruit and resolved to explore beyond the forest. Following the river bank, the trio began their journey. Even before leaving the forest, an alien roaring sound echoed in their ears.
“What is that?” asked Julius.
“Waterfall?” Henry suggested.
Dying of curiosity they broke into a sprint, and upon breaking through the trees they saw that the sound’s source was indeed a waterfall. The river had carved through the soft soil of a hill and now tumbled down in a frothy torrent to a deep pool below. Julius smiled in awe at its thunderous power and ran to the very edge. Besides the twenty foot drop, the bluish pool looked irresistibly inviting.
“I dare you to jump in!” Elizabeth said, pretending to give Julius a shove. They all laughed as he looked worryingly at the significant drop below.
Elizabeth looked impatiently at the boys; “Well come on, isn’t anyone going to dare me to jump?”
Julius looked at her and saw that she was serious. Now that he thought about it, the day was hot and he certainly could use a swim. Henry nodded in agreement before imploring the others, “I will if you do.”
They all looked at each other and Julius gave a count down with his head. The trio stepped toward the edge, preparing to jump. As Julius reached the drop off, he again looked downwards and a thrill of adrenaline shot through him. Looking to the side he saw Henry squeezing his eyes shut and Elizabeth already in the air. Automatically, his legs tensed and he launched himself off of the ledge.
For a moment, he was suspended mid-air above the pool before plunging down. Air whizzed by him and in a flash he felt the water all around him. He kicked off the bottom and popped up above water, letting off a whoop of excitement. Elizabeth in the lead, they tramped back up the hill, no words were needed to express their excitement. Again and again they jumped off the ledge to the water below, seeking that fraction of a second spent in the air and the thrilling rush of simply existing that accompanied it.
On their sixth run, however, Julius noticed a roughly elliptical shadow passing over them. What is that?”he pointed to a distant blob in the sky. Elizabeth and Henry squinted and craned their necks to glimpse it.
“Too big for a bird,” Henry observed.
“And the wrong shape,” Elizabeth added.
The figure made a banking turn and began to descend, or rather dive towards them. Watching its flight fascinatedly, they heard a deep buzzing sound. As it approached Elizabeth suddenly screamed, “Jump!”
Julius saw the compound eyes and crusty, clawlike mouthpieces and was seized by a frantic panic. He too screamed and yanked Henry, apparently stunned, over the edge with him. The fall seemed to take an eternity, he saw the insect’s wing clip the water and send it careening over the edge, he saw Elizabeth sink into the water and the plume of spray rise up, he saw the individual water droplets leisurely drifting earthwards. He landed painfully on his back at last, and emerged to see the monster, some sort of enormous fly, swept by the current towards him. He barely had enough time to draw a breath before swimming back down. A hard, smooth something brushed his back but he kept kicking furiously until his lungs could take it no more. Bursting through the water, he hauled himself over to the side, heaving with exhaustion.
Henry and Elizabeth also lay on the bank gasping for breath. Fear eased its icy grip and Julius’s normal thought processes returned. In his mind the insect’s appearance vindicated his feelings of wrongness. His mental model of the world simply did not include the possibility of this beast. Watching it gliding down the river, unable to free itself from the water on its injured wing, a twinge of pity overrode the deep seated hatred and terror.
“Maybe you’re right about this place,” Elizabeth looked to Julius.
“What?” Henry had a confused look on his face. Elizabeth told him about their conversation earlier that morning and Henry nodded in agreement.
“Makes sense,” he said, “we should be careful, might be more where that came from.”
Fear having completely receded, the discomfort of hunger and the sun’s oppressive heat rose to take their place at the forefront of the children's’ minds. The others seemed to have the same thoughts as Henry rubbed his stomach.
“We should go back to the forest to get more food,” Elizabeth proposed. Both Henry and Julius nodded, stood up and began heading back to the forest up the slight hill. Julius pushed through the dry, scratchy grass, allowing himself to drip dry. His mind, however, continued to churn though he could not yet transform his intuitions into concrete ideas.
Back in the forest, Henry retrieved his hunting spear and they passed the rest of the day in the woods, scavenging food, climbing trees, and swimming. As they talked that night, it was clear that the mystery of their situation lay heavily on everyone’s minds. Julius suggested they venture as far as they could and try to uncover whatever other secrets the land might be hiding. Henry and Elizabeth, despite the inherent danger, found the idea much to their fancy, and seconded the plan. Julius drifted off to sleep with confusing images of gigantic insects buzzing in front of his eyes.